Thursday, April 22, 2010

Robert Downey Jr. May Play Wizard In 'Oz' Prequel

"Iron Man 2" star Robert Downey Jr. may soon be traveling to the Land of Oz, led by "American Beauty" director Sam Mendes ... or by "Hairspray" director (and "So You Think You Can Dance" judge) Adam Shankman.

This changing potential lineup comes from the combined reportage of Production Weekly, via Twitter, and the Los Angeles Times. Just hours after Mendes was named on Twitter as a "front-runner" to direct Downey Jr. in a prequel to "The Wizard of Oz" titled "Oz, The Great and Powerful," the Times chimed in with word that Shankman is being considered as well.

Producer Joe Roth is developing the project, which comes from a script by Mitchell Kapner. Kapner based his story (initially pitched to Disney as "Brick") "on parts of a number of ['Oz' author] L. Frank Baum books." Audiences will learn of the circumstances that led the Wizard, originally a charlatan from Kansas, to gift brains and hearts to those in need from behind his curtain in Oz's splendid Emerald City.

The Kapner/Roth take on the Wizard's origins is described as "dark and complex," putting it in league with Gregory Maguire's popular spin-off novel "Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West," which has itself been adapted as a stage production. The proposed story's darker angle makes Mendes the more likely choice, as the Times suggests. Moreover, Roth has already seen such success with this year's "Alice in Wonderland," on which he served as a producer.

"Oz, The Great and Powerful" is one of several projects in development that would use as inspiration Baum's original work of fantastical fiction. There's a CGI take on the original book and an adaptation of the Caliber Comics series "Oz" and a loosely interpreted, contemporary version of the original story, starring Sean Astin, Christopher Lloyd and Lance Henriksen. And add to that list the long-in-development Warner Bros. project scripted by Josh Olson, "Oz: The Return to Emerald City."

Would you have cast Robert Downey Jr. as the man behind the curtain? Tell us in the comments.

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